[Don Barrett on his subscription site LAradio.com debates a column by Paul Bond in the Hollywood Reporter (another subscription site) and asks if radio is to blame for its ills, or if its just the economy. I've got a slightly different view.]
A few months ago, deep in the comments section of a diary about Air America on DailyKos (that lefty blog the right loves to hate) a poster mentioned that she’d received an ARB diary. She was going to make sure that all the liberal talk shows she listens to got the full credit they deserve. Problem was: she didn’t listen to any of them on the radio.
She listened to them as podcasts. As the discussion proceeded, she listed all the reasons that podcasts were so much better than listening on the radio. It was probably beyond her why she wasn’t really helping Air America by filling out the diary as if she listened. When even the folks who like audio-only programming move on from radio to other distribution media, its the death knell.
Once the home of Palm Beach's WEAT AM & FM
I don’t know for sure why Clear Channel went private, but my guess is that they’re pretty smart cookies even though they’re widely reviled, and they know or should know that advertsing-supported radio is dead, and to not tell the stockholders might be actionable.
Radio stayed alive the way the telegram and the landline analog telephone stayed alive for so long; bandwidth was expensive. Today we send emoticons back and forth on chat channels that take more bandwidth than a telegram took just 50 years ago.
Radio always existed because there wasn’t a more information-rich medium to fill its shoes, from the days it repurposed vaudeville, through the days it played niche music, to the days the public’s ears became sophisticated enough to tell AM was inferior, and it was relegated to the bellicose screeching of the right wing blowhards, religion, and foreign language.
Who left talk radio first? The progressives. Who is leaving music radio? The kids. Sure, some of it is that they didn’t grow up with it. But the rest is that what they grew up understanding (mp3 players and texting cell phones) are far more interesting because they’re interactive.
One hundred years ago, instantaneous communication was so stunning that a transmitter and receiver in a room together “with no connection between them save the ether” could cause an audience to gasp. Today, there’s a cellphone in everybody’s pocket.
I know many of us love radio, usually because we were in it or it was a big part of our lives when our world was young, but the medium was lucky enough to have two golden ages. We’re in the throes of a media technological revolution that is as dramatic as the early demonstrations of radio was to the horse-drawn generation. The telegraph is dead, newspapers and radio aren’t far behind.
So, I’d say radio isn’t at fault for its ills, nor is it the economy. Its the public that, just as they finally grasped that FM was better–over RCA’s powerful objections–has finally grasped that radio isn’t the best place to go for anything anymore.
Could radio have kept itself alive longer? Probably. But its like any dying industry. Do you stop pouring the money into it, and take the profits until they dry up, or do you try and prop it up by massive infusions of cash even when you know there’s a fundamental flaw in the technology. I think radio lived a long and rich life, and we ought to prepare ourselves to give it the final tribute it deserves.